Socialism and democratic strategy in Italy’s Biennio Rosso: Gramsci contra Treves

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This article examines the divisions in Italian Socialism between Revolutionaries and Reformists against the backdrop of the Biennio Rosso (1919-20), taking the writings of Antonio Gramsci and Claudio Treves respectively as characteristic of the two traditions. The central focus is on their opposing accounts of how the Socialist movement should organize the masses to achieve its objectives – referred to here as its ‘democratic strategy.’ I demonstrate how the key strategic elements of Gramsci’s and Treves’s positions developed in a dialogue centered on the place violence, (il)legality, soviets, parliaments and compromise should play in effectively mobilizing the masses for Socialism. The article concludes by arguing that in retrospect Treves’s Reformism has been a more successful approach, and Gramsci himself conceded something to it in his prison writings. However, I also maintain that the popular character of Gramsci’s radical democratic strategy - first fashioned in the Biennio Rosso - can still contribute to debates on Socialism and Social Democracy today.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)314-337
Number of pages25
JournalJournal of Modern Italian Studies
Issue number3
Early online date21 Jun 2017
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 21 Jun 2017


  • Antonio Gramsci, Claudio Treves, Socialism, democracy, political strategy, Biennio Rosso


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